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Dark Guardian #3: Dark of the Moon
Eight days earlier.
Tonight was the big night, the one I'd waited for my entire life. The awakening, the first shift—the loss of my moon virginity.
A few minutes earlier, I'd removed all my clothes. I sat on them now in a small clearing deep in the forest, surrounded by towering trees. Chill bumps erupted along my skin. It was summer. July. But our hidden compound, Wolford, was located in a national forest that bordered Canada. When the sun retreated, the nights grew cool. Brimming with impatience, I waited. I'd never wanted anything as badly as I wanted this. Well, except maybe a mate.
But I couldn't help but believe after this momentous night—after I'd proven myself worthy—that the right guy would finally step forward and claim me.
I'd celebrated my seventeenth birthday three days earlier. The first full moon since that day was rising in the night sky. When it reached its zenith, I would transform into a gorgeous creature—into a wolf.
I'd envisioned it a thousand times. I would shed my human shell to reveal what I'd always known resided inside me. I willed it to happen. Even though I knew I should be terrified I wasn't. My fur would be blue-black, just like my hair. My eyes would remain a deep blue. Earlier in the summer, Connor had told me that they reminded him of an ocean surrounded by more ocean. We'd been drinking beer with some campers at the time. I knew his slurred words didn't mean anything, but they'd still given me hope that somehow Connor would become my mate. But the hope had finally shriveled into nothingness, and Ifocused on the larger picture, the greater good.
For as long as we'd existed, the male of our species had chosen his mate after his transformation and before hers. He went through his alone, but he stood by his mate when she endured her first shift, guiding her so she experienced more pleasure than pain. No female had made the change alone in generations—and the ones who had in the past were considered myths. Legend proclaimed that without a mate, a female faced excruciating pain followed by certain death.
Guess I was about to find out, because no one had claimed me as his mate. The elders, the wise men of our clan, the ones who guided us with their wisdom, had even tried to connect me with someone—Daniel—so I wouldn't have to go through this night alone. I knew they meant well, were trying to protect me, but I didn't want just anyone. I wanted Connor McCandless.
So two nights ago, I'd slipped away from Wolford in the middle of the night. I knew with his sense of smell that Daniel would be able to track me if he wanted to. But I also knew that he was the type of guy who would respect my decision to leave without him. Somewhere out there was the right girl for him, and we both knew it wasn't me.
The first transformation was an intimate, personal experience. I didn't want to go through it with someone who was serving as a stand-in for the real deal, for my true mate. In my heart, it would always be Connor. If I went through this with another guy, I'd feel like I was cheating on Connor. It was an irrational thought because we'd never be together. Still I couldn't control how I felt.
Earlier in the summer, my mom had even offered to go through my first transformation with me—but that was as creepy as the idea of going to the prom with her. Some things I simply didn't want her to share with me. So I'd encouraged her to take her annual summer trip to Europe. I was fine on my own.
But now as I stared at the yellow orb that possessed more power than humans realized, an uncharacteristic loneliness washed over me. Tonight Connor was with Lindsey because she was going through her first shift beneath the full moon, too. Last summer he'd declared her his mate in front of the entire pack. He believed she was his true love. I wasn't as convinced. Lately, I'd noticed her staring at Rafe. I thought maybe she wanted him, but she'd been promised to Connor, and our traditions weren't meant to be broken.
I couldn't help wishing that Connor had selected me. He had this cute way of using his fingers to comb his shaggy blond hair out of his stunning blue eyes. He was tall, strong, and possessed a body honed to perfection by the constant shifting. Like all male shifters, he was predatory and dangerous. Totally hot.
Not that I was into Connor because of his physical prowess. It sounded stupid to say I loved his mind, but I was into the way he read situations, considered strategies, and never jumped into Shifter mode at the first sign of trouble. He weighed options.
I just wished his heart had been as cautious before he'd announced Lindsey was his mate. Following the ancient tradition, he had a Celtic symbol representing her name tattooed on his shoulder.
I fought not to think about Connor and Lindsey standing together wearing only the ceremonial cloaks reserved for mates preparing for their bonding. I'd heard that going through a transformation together was an incredibly soul-binding experience. That it wasn't only the moonlight that caressed, that touched, that whispered—
Groaning, I banished the haunting images. I would suffer enough tonight without thinking about them and the attraction that would pull them into each other's arms.
I lifted my gaze to the star-filled sky. The moon that guided our destinies was high overhead. I should start to feel something at any minute.
As a rule, no one ever discussed their first transformation. It was as private as the loss of your virginity. But I'd felt as though I had no choice but to seek advice on what to expect. So I'd spoken with Kayla, who had survived her first shift during the last full moon. She'd told me that it had felt as though the moonlight was actually touching her, coaxing her beast to reveal itself. Dark Guardian #3: Dark of the Moon. Copyright © by Rachel Hawthorne. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.